- If the horse is rearing, with both front legs raised, then the rider died in battle.
- If only one hoof is lifted, the rider was wounded in battle, possibly dying later.
- If all four hooves are on the ground, then the rider was never injured in battle and died by some other means.
Just three further examples (undoubtedly there are many more across the UK and further afield) will suffice to reveal the inconsistency of the myth. Take the statue of King George III. Situated on Pall Mall his horse is sculpted with one hoof raised indicating, if the myth is true, that he had been wounded. He never once fought a battle.
Similarly, another famous example in Whitehall, London, is of Earl Haig (top right). The raised hoof suggests battle wounds, but Field Marshall Douglas Haig evaded any serious harm while commanding the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) on the Western Front in the First World War. He died of a heart attack, aged 66, on January 29th, 1928.
Finally, to confuse the picture, the memorial of Richard the Lionheart, which stands outside the Palace of Westminster, shows the king in full mail mounted passant, his sword held forcefully aloft (below right). His horse's left foreleg is very obviously raised which, in this case, actually would be correct. On March 26th, 1199, while besieging the puny, virtually unarmed castle of Châlus-Chabrol, King Richard was hit in the shoulder by a crossbow bolt. The wound turned gangrenous and the Lionheart died of sepsis (blood poisoning) eleven days later.. Even more frustratingly, there is no evidence for where and when this idea came from, yet people still believe this myth to be true. Hopefully not now though..?
1. “Equestrian” comes from the Latin “eques”, meaning “knight”, which in turn derives from “equus”, a “horse”.
2. Brown, M. (2016), "Do London's Horse Statues have a Hidden Code?", Londonist.com, retrieved May 13th, 2020.
3. In heraldry, a beast passant (Old French: "striding") walks toward dexter (the viewer's left, or in the case of a knight's shield, its right edge. From Latin "dexter" meaning "right") with the right forepaw raised and all others on the ground.
4. Wilde, R. (2019), "Do Statues of Riders or Knights Conceal Codes?", ThoughtCo, retrieved May13th, 2020.